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Reza Aslan, Fox News, and Jesus as violent revolutionary

Religion scholar Reza Aslan has a new book called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and has been plugging it on the talk shows (like The Daily Show). Last week, Fox News had a hilariously boneheaded interview with him where they questioned why a Muslim should even have an opinion on Jesus. That took off on social media, most notably BuzzFeed, which asked Is This The Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done?

On Wednesday, religion scholar Stephen Prothero took on the substance of Aslan’s book for CNN’s Belief Blog and cited a number of controversial things that Aslan has written. Aslan argues, for example, that Jesus was a violent revolutionary and was trying to become a worldly king.

Both Prothero and Aslan have Quaker connections. Aslan is a former intern at Friends Committee on National Legislation. In 2010, then FCNL Executive Secretary Joe Volk wrote about working with him, and Aslan is scheduled to speak at FNCL’s Annual Meeting this November. For his part, Prothero sometimes attends Friends meeting in Cape Cod, Mass., and once tried to get Stephen Colbert to convert to Quakerism.

Is Reza Aslan’s view of Jesus one that Friends identify with? And just how should Americans talk about controversial religious viewpoints?

Martin Kelley is the senior editor at Friends Journal.

Posted in: The FJ Blog

10 Responses to Reza Aslan, Fox News, and Jesus as violent revolutionary

  1. Maggie August 1, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    City & State
    Bristol TN
    Martin, I think the point or reason the Fox clip went internet viral is almost entirely because the newscaster could not comprehend that he could be a scholar, a highly educated person with great knowledge. I am going to go back and see what he actually thought about Jesus!

    • Kevin Plunkett August 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      City & State
      Atkinson, NH
      It strikes me that what is missing from the discussion is a sufficient understanding of historical jesus scholarship and how it differs from scholarship in theology and religious studies. Aslan, and other prominent scholars like John Crossan, for example, never presumes to reflect on or impugn theological beliefs or religious structures. That being the case, much commentary on his book is decidedly off base. These scholars try to reconstruct as much as is possible the actual conditions of Jesus’ life and the world he inhabited, but since Jesus is such an enigmatic figure and because there are so many gaps in his life story and so much of the gospels is demonstratably fiction, these scholars feel compelled to speculate on the larger dimensions of his life and personality. My point is you don;t need to buy into all of Aslan’s speculation in order to benefit from his amazing book. Personally, I am not coninced that Jesus was a Jealot, but clearly the Romans saw him as a revolutionary,and the early church did everything shifting emphasis away from this focus.

  2. Barbara Conner August 2, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    City & State
    Lafayette, LA
    I am disappointed by the reference in the article above to statements with which one disagrees as, “boneheaded.” I find that, generally, building avenues of communication begins with not “labeling” the other and with avoiding sarcasm; especially, if the other is doing those very things!
    I am delighted to learn that a former intern with FCNL has pursued studies and degrees that make that person an expert in the field. I look forward to learning more.

  3. Keith F. Saylor August 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    “Aslan argues, for example, that Jesus was a violent revolutionary and was trying to become a worldly king.”

    The question is, what does this mean? Does the author’s use of “violent revolutionary” and “worldly king” suggest the historical Jesus was willing to kill people who disagree with him to establish himself as leader of the material world?

    Assuming this is true, for the sake of discussion, such an approach strikes me as reflecting some truth in the same way as someone arguing people cherish books because they enjoy turning the pages and looking at the pretty designs on the nice white paper. There is truth there but it does not approach whole truth. As academic or intellectual abstractions – “violent revolutionary” and “worldly king” are helpful study and reflection points. If these are taken as encompassing the whole of the historical personality of Jesus, these helpful abstractions then hinder meaning and understanding.

    Further, if they are used to harden the reader’s heart toward the Jesus’ witness of eternal being through the personal experience of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the inner light … perhaps the author’s word reflect intemperance?

  4. Isaac May August 14, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    City & State
    Cambridge, MA
    Not to rag on Aslan’s credentials but he simply isn’t in a position to do serious work in New Testament scholarship. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity (I’m a current student myself) and a PhD from UC Santa Barbara, but to my understanding he didn’t concentrate in New Testament studies at either. His actual dissertation work is on modern Islam. I’d trust him to teach an undergraduate course in the subject but experts in the field just don’t take the guys work that seriously.

    While the Fox News interview was hilarious Aslan simply is not standing on good scholarly ground with the idea that Jesus was a violent revolutionary. S.G.F. Brandon argued the same point in the 1967 book Jesus and the Zealots, at the time his views were criticized and the evidence hasn’t gotten any more persuasive since then. That’s not to say that Aslan’s work is terrible but I”d rather people be reading someone like Bart Ehrman before they pick up this book.

    • kevin plunkett August 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      Isaac makes some interesting points and I would certainly encourage readers to explre more traditional scholars, like Ehrman, Crossan etc. But I feel we miss the larger picture by focusing too much on scholarly credentials. This is not a scholarly text as evident by the absence of footnotes and the relegation of scholarly debate to endnotes. It is passionately written and provactively presented, more characterrized by the immediacy of a novel than the erudition of an academic discourse. Though a professor inAmerican literature and film, i have read extensively on the historical Jesus. And I find this the most riveting book ever written on Jesus and one that provides tantalizing insights into the social construction of religious icons.

  5. MIchael Snow September 4, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    The author Aslan is a professor of “creative writing” not an historian or biblical scholar. A clear refutation of his theme is in Romans 12 and 13 where Jesus’ teaching is applied to rejecting the zealotry of the day. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/romans-13-in-context-sword-pacifism/

    • kevin plunkett September 17, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

      City & State
      atkinson, nh
      Michael’s claim is valid only if you assume that Paul’s Jesus is authentic rather than his own invented vision of a man he never met, whose teachings he largely ignored or was ignorant of. Where is the great parabalist in Paul’s writings, he doesnt exist. Its that simple. And its also evident that since Jesus is the most enigmatic of all spiritual avatars then every individual interpretation of him is incomplete-a fiction, a living fiction to be sure, but a fiction nonetheless. Uncover what it is within Jesus that most resonates in your soul and live by it. Stop sweating the rest.

  6. Sharon Hoover September 5, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    City & State
    Lewes, DE
    Those who call themselves Quakers, at least in what I have seen called “the traditional, liberal” arm of Quakers, would better spend their time reading Karen Armstrong’s essay on the Axial philosophers in her book “The Great Transformation.” I am a Quaker because I believe in the transcendent–that is, something beyond what humans can know–and that the transcendent exists in all creation.

  7. David E. Clem September 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    City & State
    Port Jefferson, Ohio
    I have read Aslan’s book and found it to contain some relevant historical and social context material that is accurate and he does have a readable and engaging writing style. Some of his assertions I found to be incompatible with orthodox theological sentiment however, yet my faith was not harmed by simply considering Aslan’s ideas. I did not consider the book to be spiritually authoritative by any means, and personally differ with the author’s implied conclusions concerning who Jesus is, but I respect his right to hold opinions that differ with mine and welcome the opportunity for an opening for Christian dialogue the book might facilitate between spiritually mature Christian people and other seeking souls who have read Aslan’s book but have not been introduced to “Jesus the Christ”.

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